ALLISON LANGDON - HOST: I spoke with the Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, a short time ago. Anika, really appreciate your time. You must feel for Bev, Stuart and all of the residents who are really scared and anxious right now.
MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SPORT, ANIKA WELLS: Yeah. Your heart goes out to them, doesn't it? Stuart and Bev in particular, given their kids did everything that you would ask of Australians to do in this situation, and yet they're still being presented with this letter under the door. My heart really goes out to them.
LANGDON: How did Wesley Mission come to you? Could you have stopped the closures or can you still save them?
WELLS: Well, like the rest of the country, I found out from breakfast television telling us that Wesley Mission was closing three facilities, which I think is really disappointing. But also mostly, like you say, for the residents who found a letter under their door one morning asking them to leave by the end of May… I want to assure those residents and their families that their rights under the Act state Wesley Mission cannot close its doors until residents are found suitable accommodation elsewhere.
And we are now working with Wesley Mission and providers nearby to make sure that happens. And I'm heartened by the fact that many other providers have stepped forward like UnitingCare and Hammond Care, to make sure those residents and workers are looked after.
LANGDON: I think for a lot of people the question is, it happened to Wesley Mission? Who else? And you didn't see this coming? Wesley Mission since apologised to you for that?
Are you now checking in on all aged care facilities so you're not blindsided again?
WELLS: Well, we have data that tells us how people are tracking both financially and towards targets like 24/7 nurses. And Wesley Mission was tracking towards meeting that goal by 1 July.
So that's why I think that was such a blindside for us. We keep a very close eye on the viability of the sector.
LANGDON: The boss of Wesley Mission says they're not the first and they won't be the last. So what happens when the next one closes?
WELLS: Well, I think where people are coming to us saying that they are in financial distress or they feel like they are not able to meet the targets, we are working with them.
There are grants available in some cases, particularly for regional and remote facilities.
Also we can highlight all of the reforms coming down the line that will help providers make things more viable and sustainable.
LANGDON: You'd assume that this wasn't an easy decision for Wesley Mission to make.
WELLS: I have to assume because they didn't engage with me on it.
LANGDON: Are you still mad about that?
WELLS: I feel mad on behalf of people like Bev and Stuart. How could you not when you see the story and there are thousands of stories out there. But again, plenty of providers are doing the right thing.
Plenty of providers have actually been providing 24/7 nursing care for decades. And it was two years ago that the Royal Commission recommended that all facilities put that into place.
So the overwhelming majority of facilities have done that. And I’m excited about what lies ahead for aged care in this country. But I know that's of cold comfort to people like Bev and Stuart tonight.
And we are working with Wesley Mission to make sure that all those residents find suitable accommodation.
LANGDON: I think this took the whole country by surprise to see these three homes closed down with such little warning. Are you worried this is just the tip of the iceberg?
WELLS: None of the data I have suggests that.
LANGDON: And if you've got 70% of homes that are operating at a loss now, and if you look at what's to come, the minimum wage would jump 15 per cent in July, which aged care workers deserve.
They're going to need that registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day. There's going to be potentially higher interest rates. If they're doing it tough now, how will they cope in a couple of months?
WELLS: Because we have more reforms on the way that will make things easier for providers. You know that the budget is only a few weeks away, that we have been working diligently on this since coming to government last year to make sure we lift the standard of care in this country for residents and their families, what Australians want to see is a higher standard of care. But on the other side we are doing things that make this a viable ecosystem for providers to operate in.
LANGDON: What we're hearing from the peak industry group and what we also heard from the CEO of Wesley Mission. It doesn't marry up even with the additional funding that you're putting in, the extra 5 billion that comes in next month, you're still going to see more homes close.
WELLS: I think it's the case that aged care facilities have always opened and closed across the decades. I want to reassure your viewers that we have more beds opening than closing across the country at the moment, and that all the data suggests that profitability will increase at the next round of reports.
And you make a good point. We aren't asking providers to do this off their own bat. Taxpayers are paying to lift the standard of care in this country.
LANGDON: I imagine you're fighting very hard for your share of the Canberra money pot, but there are pockets of cash needed for things like NDIS, Medicare. You just had a government committee coming out saying jobseeker should be raised to almost $1,000 a fortnight.
That will cost $24 billion over four years. It's not a bottomless pit. So who gets the money?
WELLS: I can assure you that aged care is a big part of the budget. It's coming in just a few weeks’ time. I do think that the sustainability of aged care and the sustainability of a system where we lift the standard of care is probably the great unanswered question from the Royal Commission.
And that means now we need to take stock more than two years on, get together and have a national conversation about what Australians are prepared for and what they expect of their governments to do.
You would have seen in December I launched Star Ratings. That was another recommendation of the Royal Commission and Star Ratings allows every Australian to look at any facility and see how they're going, what residents think of the food, what their profitability is like, what their workforce is like, and they can make a decision about whether or not they think that is acceptable.
LANGDON: Are you saying we need to be prepared to pay more for aged care?
WELLS: I'm saying we need to have a national conversation about what Australians expect of aged care and what is needed from taxpayers and their Federal Government.
LANGDON: I think the issue for a lot of families is to even get into an aged care facility, they've got to sell their family home. There's not a lot of money left over.
And if we're talking about people having to pay more to get into a home, I'm not sure how much more a lot of people have.
WELLS: And I think that's why what we need to do is have a discussion about it. We need to hear from people about where they are finding things too difficult, where they are finding inefficiencies in the system.
I know a lot of that information went into the Royal Commission, but that final report is now more than two years old.
LANGDON: Can you provide some comfort for those at home who right now might be worried that their home or the home their loved one is the next Wesley Mission home?
What comfort can you provide them?
WELLS: Well, I want them to know that for ten days of pre-poll, ahead of the election last year I stood and asked people what they were voting for and so many people told me they were voting to fix aged care in this country.
And I can't believe that I have the privilege of now being the Minister for Aged Care tasked with the job of getting that done. And I genuinely believe that the reforms that we are bringing, all of which were asked of government from the Royal Commission more than two years ago, will lift the standard of care in this country.
But we are also putting billions of dollars of money into making sure that that happens and supporting the people tasked with doing it. And while I think it will take a while for this all to take effect and for people to feel it on the ground, we should have ambition for aged care and people should take hope that we are turning the corner.
LANGDON: Okay, from day one, you've rolled up your sleeves and you've been on a mission. Minister, really appreciate your time this evening. Thank you.
WELLS: It's a pleasure, Alli.